The U.S. public schools switched from teaching phonics as it was taught in the old McGuffey Readers to what was called the Whole Word system. That meant the child was not taught how to sound out the syllables, but instead taught to memorize a few dozen one-syllable words, and then guess at the other words from the pictures on the page. This was part of so-called Progressive Education that was brought by the famous John Dewey to Teachers College at Columbia University with a $3 million grant from John D. Rockefeller Jr, who then sent four of his sons to be educated by Dewey’s modern and supposedly better ideas.
Suddenly, the “Dick and Jane” books appeared everywhere. They had color pictures and only a couple of short sentences on each page. A typical page showed Dick and Jane on a seesaw. The kids could easily “read” the two sentences below: “See Dick up. See Jane down.”
Nelson Rockefeller, who became Governor of New York and ran three times for U.S. President, later said, “I am a prime example of one who has had to struggle with the handicap of being a poor reader while serving in public office.” Rockefeller said that when he had to give a speech, he would usually just talk off the cuff to his audiences because he could not read the speech that his high-paid speech writers had prepared for him. His teachers just said he was a slow learner, but the real reason was he was never taught how to read by phonics.
Listen to the radio commentary here: